Monday, March 19, 2007

metareview: david kamp on jonathan lethem

In this week's New York Times Book Review, David Kamp closed his review of Jonathan Lethem's latest work, You Don't Love Me Yet, with this snarky little zinger:

As they'd say in the rock magazines, this new release is worthwhile for the Lethem completist, but perhaps not for the first-time buyer.

To be fair, Kamp, a self-described contributing editor to VANITY FAIR and GQ who also writes the occasional BOOK (his caps), characterized Lethem's previous two novels - "Motherless Brooklyn" and "The Fortress of Solitude" as "maximalist humdingers", so I should have seen this zinger coming.

Apparently, the author of such fine works as “The United States of Arugula” and “The Rock Snob’s Dictionary" isn't satisfied with lighter fare once he's had a taste of a maximalist humdinger. One Wonders what he'd have to say about the rest of Lethem's oeuvre, which includes such high-brow titles as "Men and Cartoons", "As She Climbed Across the Table" and my favorite, "Gun with Occasional Music". Perhaps "minimalist hornswagglers".

After spending many hours - days even - on his other works, I'm happy when Lethem serves up a burger and fries to mix things up. Kamp missed the point of "You Don't Love Me Yet" - it wasn't meant to stand up to "The Fortress of Solitude" or even "Motherless Brooklyn". It's an intermezzo, a rapid-fire LA passion play, not a genre-bending detective story or a lengthy meditation on culture.

When Kamp complains that Lethem's latest is "a mite too parenthetical", he's cluing us in to the sad fact that he was disappointed - a sure sign that he started the book with the wrong set of expectations. A fault which, I'll venture, is not the best trait for a reviewer to admit.

"Maximalist humdinger". . . oi vey.

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